Tuesday, July 21, 2015

983. A Tale Begins - Wislawa Szymborska

Translated from the Polish by Clare Cavanagh and Stanislaw Baranczak

Our ships are not yet back from Winnland.
We still have to get over the S. Gothard pass.
We’ve got to outwit the watchmen on the desert of Thor,
fight our way through the sewers to Warsaw’s center,
gain access to King Harald the Butterpat,
and wait until the downfall of Minister Fouche.
Only in Acapulco
can we begin anew.

We’ve run out of bandages,
matches, hydraulic presses, arguments, and water.
We haven’t got the trucks, we haven’t got the Minghs’ support.
This skinny horse won’t be enough to bribe the sheriff.
No news so far about the Tartars’ captives.
We’ll need a warmer cave for winter
and someone who can speak Harari.

We don’t know whom to trust in Nineveh,
what conditions the Prince-Cardinal will decree,
which names Beria has still got inside his files.
They say Karol the Hammer strikes tomorrow at dawn.
In this situation, let’s appease Cheops,
report ourselves of our own free will,
change faiths,
pretend to be friends with the Doge,
and say that we’ve got nothing to do the the Kwabe tribe.

Time to light the fires.
Let’s send a cable to grandma in Zabierzow.
Let’s untie the knot in the yurt’s leather straps.

May delivery be easy,
may our child grow and be well.
Let him be happy from time to time
and leap over abysses
Let his heart have strength to endure
and his mind be awake and reach far.

But not so far
that it sees into the future.
Spare him
that one gift,

O heavenly powers.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

982. It Was A Time - Stephen Dunn

.
Some of us just wanted to drop out, go far away
from integrity’s demands. Others sought strange
consultations with their almost vanished selves.
And the brave, they would meet somewhere
in zero weather to subvert the drift of the land.
It was a time to link arms, or cross the boarder.
And who were you, and who was I?
Such questions seemed like a lifelong job.
We put the world on notice, and world
hardly noticed. When we occupied the offices

of people who just wanted to do their jobs
and go home, we thought we’d done something
historical, bold. We desired to be as compelling
as Belmondo with a cigarette. Monica Vitti
looking just so. But always the familiar banalities
would return—-an existential day followed
by a comfortable night, the rhapsodies
of achievement, then a great smalling down.
No one could be sure what was true. In time

we become people we only occasionally knew

Saturday, May 09, 2015

981. Two Paintings by Gustav Klimt - Jorie Graham

.
Although what glitters
         on the trees,
row after perfect row,
        is merely
the injustice
        of the world,

the chips on the bark of each
        beech tree
catching the light, the sum
        of these delays
is the beautiful, the human
        beautiful,

body of flaws.
        The dead
would give anything
        I’m sure,
to step again onto
        the leaf rot,

into the avenue of mottled shadows,
        the speckled
broken skins. The dead
        in their sheer
open parenthesis, what they
        wouldn’t give

for something to lean on
        that won’t
give way. I think I
        would weep
for the moral nature
        of this world,

for right and wrong like pools
        of shadow
and light you can step in
        and out of
crossing this yellow beech forest,
        this buchen-wald,

one autumn afternoon, late
        in the twentieth
century, in hollow light,
        in gaseous light. . . .
To receive the light
        and return it

and stand in rows, anonymous,
        is a sweet secret
even the air wishes
        it could unlock.
See how it pokes at them
        in little hooks,

the blue air, the yellow trees.
        Why be afraid?
They say when Klimt
        died suddenly
a painting, still
        incomplete,

was found in his studio,
        a woman’s body
open at its point of
        entry,
rendered in graphic,
        pornographic,

detail—something like
        a scream
between her legs. Slowly,
        feathery,
he had begun to paint
        a delicate

garment (his trademark)
        over this mouth
of her body. The mouth
        of her face
is genteel, bored, feigning a need
        for sleep. The fabric

defines the surface,
        the story,
so we are drawn to it,
        its blues
and yellows glittering
        like a stand

of beech trees late
        one afternoon
in Germany, in fall.
        It is called
Buchenwald, it is
        1890. In

the finished painting
        the argument
has something to do
        with pleasure.


Jorie Graham, “Two Paintings by Gustav Klimt” from Erosion. Copyright © 1983 by Jorie Graham. Reprinted by permission of Princeton University Press.

Sunday, May 03, 2015

980. The Little Ways That Encouarge Good Fortune

.
Wisdom is having things right in your life
and knowing why.
If you do not have things right in your life
you will be overwhelmed:
you may be heroic, but you will not be wise.
If you have things right in your life
but do not know why,
you are just lucky, and you will not move
in the little ways that encourage good fortune.

The saddest are those not right in their lives
who are acting to make things right for others:
they act only from the self—
and that self will never be right:

no luck, no help, no wisdom.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

979. A Tale Begun - Wislawa Szymborska

.
Translated from the Polish by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh

The world is never ready
for the birth of a child.

Our ships are not yet back from Vineland.
We still have to get over the S. Gothard pass.
We've got to outwit the watchmen on the desert of Thor,
fight our way through the sewers to Warsaw's center,
gain access to King Harald the Butterpat,
and wait until the downfall of Minister Fouché.
Only in Acapulco
can we begin anew.

We've run out of bandages,
matches, hydraulic presses, arguments, and water.
We haven't got the trucks, we haven't got the Minghs' support.
The skinny horse won't be enough to bribe the sheriff.
No news so far about the Tartars' captives.
We'll need a warmer cave for winter
and someone who can speak Harari.

We don't know whom to trust in Nineveh,
what conditions the Prince-Cardinal will decree,
which names Beria has still got inside his files.
They say Karol the Hammer strikes tomorrow at dawn.
In this situation, let's appease Cheops,
report ourselves of our own free will,
change faiths,
pretend to be friends with the Doge,
and say that we've got nothing to do with the Kwabe tribe.

Time to light the fires.
Let's send a cable to grandma in Zabierzów.
Let's untie the knots in the yurt's leather straps.
May delivery be easy,
may our child grow and be well.
Let him be happy from time to time
and leap over abysses.
Let his heart have strength to endure
and his mind be awake and reach far.

But not so far
that it sees into the future.
Spare him 
that one gift,

O heavenly powers.

978. Most of the Warriors - James Kavanaugh

.
Most of the warriors I knew
Have settled down to gardening, and the morning Times,
Tired of stalking ghosts
and the melody of secret rhythms
above the sound of traffic
and other monotonous voices,
Finally content to stare and wonder.

Most of the warriors I knew
Have unsaddled stallions and built a fence in the backyard,
Weary of studying the clouds
And the shadows creeping across mountains
beyond the flash of neon
and other pretentious symbols,
Finally content to stare and wonder.

Most of the warriors I knew
Have died before their time and are forgotten
Save in the memory of their sons
And the dreams they seldom share
beyond the taint of time
and other unimportant measures

Finally content to stare and wonder.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

977. The Voice - Thomas Hardy

.
Woman much missed, how you call to me, call to me,
Saying that now you are not as you were
When you had changed from the one who all all to me,
But as at first, when our day was fair.

Can it be you that I hear? Let me view you, then,
Standing as when I drew near to the town
Where you would wait for me: yes, as I knew you then,
Even to the original air-blue gown!

Or is it only the breeze in its listlessness
Traveling across the wet mead to me here,
You being ever dissolved to wan wistlessiness,
Heard no more again far or near?

Thus I; faltering forward,
Leaves around me falling,
Wind oozing thin through the thorn from norward,
And the woman calling.

From Seamus Heaney
“I can’t honestly say that I break down when I read “The Voice,” but
when I get to the last four lines the dear ducts do congest a bit. The
poem is one of several Thomas Hardy wrote immediately after the
death of his first wife in late November 1912, hence his poignancy
of dating it “December 1912.” Hardy once described this group
of memorial poems as “an expiation,” acknowledging his grief and
remorse at the way he had neglected and hurt the one “who was all to
me…..at first, when our day was fair.” What renders the music of the
poem so moving is the drag in the voice, as if there were sinkers on
many of the lines. But in the final stanza, in that landscape of falling
leaves, wind and thorn, and the woman calling, there is a banshee note
that haunts “long after it is heard no more.”



Sunday, February 01, 2015

976. That Day - Denise Levertov

.
Across s lake in Switzerland, fifty years ago,
light was jousting with long lances, fencing with 
   broadswords
back and forth among cloudy peaks and foothills.
We watched from a small pavilion, my mother and I, 
enthralled.

And then, behold, a shaft, a column,
a defined body, not of light but of silver rain,
formed and set out from the distant shore, leaving behind
the silent feints and thrusts, and advanced
unswervingly, at a steady pace,
toward us.
I knew this! I’d seen it! Not the sensation
of déjà vu: it was Blakes’s inkwash vision,
“The Spirit of God Moving Upon the Face of the Waters’!
The column steadily came on
across the lake toward us; on each side of it,
there was no rain. We rose to our feet, breathless—
and then it reached us, took us
into its veil of silver, wrapped us
in finest weave of wet, 

and we laughed for joy, astonished.